Reducing poverty through economic development, By Jide Ayobolu

#TrackNigeria: President Muhammadu Buhari says his administration’s plan is to “lay the foundation” for 100 million Nigerians to be lifted out of poverty. President Buhari said that target would be achieved at the end of his eight-year term in 2023. “Our Administration’s eight years will have laid the grounds for lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years,” he said recently. “This outcome will fundamentally shift Nigeria’s trajectory and place us among the World’s Great Nations.” He spoke at a retreat for ministers-designate in Abuja. The president had on August 1 claimed his administration had lifted 5 million Nigerians out of poverty in three years. He said the National Social Investment Programme achieved that goal. The president’s claim came despite report by the World Poverty Clock in 2018 that Nigeria had overtaken India with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty. According to the report released in May 2018, Nigeria now has an estimated 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared to India’s 73 million.

Poverty is generally scarcity, dearth, or the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possession or funds. It is a multifaceted concept, which involves social, economic and political elements. Poverty can either be absolute or relative. Absolute poverty or destitution refers to the lack of means necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Relative poverty takes into consideration individual social and economic status compared to the rest of the society. Fundamentally therefore, poverty is the inability of having choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to; not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation. It means insufficient capacity and opportunity to better one’s life.

Yes, poverty in Nigeria did not start with the government in 1999; it has been with us for quite a while now. For instance, in 1986, according to official figures, three million Nigerians were unemployed. Of these, those below 25 years accounted for 73.1 per cent, young school leavers accounted for the bulk of the employed with 60.3 per cent and 46.2 per cent in the urban and rural areas respectively. The Gross National Product has been declining. The decline in the housing sector averages about 10 per cent, that of manufacturing 6.4 per cent and 5 per cent for construction, wholesale and retail sectors. However, the agriculture sector has been improving by an annual average of 2.2 per cent; expressed in real terms, by an average of 36.7 per cent. No doubt, Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava, albeit, much of this is lost to waste because of the absence of good storage facilities.

It is also important to note that, the United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) in 1995 estimated that at least half of Nigeria’s teeming population are regarded as undernourished, the 71 million ill-fed Nigerians constitutes 25 per cent of the 200million under nourished Africans alone. It is equally important to note that, the Gross Domestic Product(GDP) of Nigeria in 2001 was $41billion, that of South Africa was $113billion, Malaysia $188 billion, Korea $9,460, United Kingdom $25,120 and United States of America $34,000.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has said that a staggering 112.519 million Nigerians live in relative poverty conditions, this figure represents 69 per cent of the country’s total population estimated to be 163 million, more worrisome is the fact that, the poverty rate is rising far beyond tolerable limits. These facts are contained in a 26 page report titled, The Nigeria Poverty Profile 2010. Furthermore, in August 2015, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo explained that about 110 million Nigerians were still living below poverty line despite the policies of past governments to improve their welfare. He noted however that, the policies were wrongly formulated and as a result did not have direct impact on the people. According to him, this is the main challenge, hence, governments have not been accountable to the people; otherwise policies should have roots in the real conditions of the people. He further explained that, a country cannot be said to be rich, when about two-thirds of its people are extremely poor, stressing that the people are concerned about, how do I get a meal, how do I get healthcare and how to send children to school.

It is imperative to underscore the fact that; the UNDP report 2002, 70 per cent out of every 120 Nigerians live below the poverty line. Also, the report emphasized that, Nigeria is one of the 20 poorest countries in the world. Nigeria also ranked 57th in terms of Gross National Product (GNP). Equally, the country is 124th in gender related development and 151st in Human Development Index. Nigeria’s contribution to global Gross Domestic Product being mere 0.22 per cent and also ranking 187th in GNP per capita income.

In the Human Development Index report 2002, out of the 173 countries whose living conditions were assessed, Nigeria ranked 148th behind Madagascar and Haiti. The African country with the best condition is the Island of Seychelles which occupied the 47th position in the reports ranking, coming a distant second was Libya in the 64th position, while Cape Verde, Algeria and South Africa were ranked 100th, 106th and 107th respectively. According to official report conducted in 2002, it was reported that 91 per cent of Nigerian household are poor, in fact, 89 million Nigerians are living the international poverty benchmark of $1 a day. The poverty level figure which translates to about 70.2 per cent of the country’s population makes Nigeria the country with the highest concentration of people living in extreme poverty in Africa.

Also, the country’s health system performance was ranked 187th amongst the 191 member states by the World Health Organization (WHO), and public expenditure on health in Nigeria is less than $8 per capita, compared to the $34 recommended internationally. This is supported by the worrisome 2004 Human Development report that placed Nigeria in the 151st position out of the 177 ranked in order of poverty. Also, in the latest World Bank report Ghana is rated far ahead of Nigeria in such areas as corruption, rule of law, good governance, infrastructural development, democratic ideals/ethos etc.

In spite of the fact that Nigeria is potentially a rich country, it is essentially a poor country, despite being the largest economy in Africa, the 26th largest economy in the world as well as being the most populous black country on planet earth, Nigeria is ranked around 160th out of 177 countries on the scale of the Human Development Index (HDI). It is important to note that the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, provides in section 16(1b) that, government shall control the national economy in such a manner as to ensure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity, while section 16(2d) states that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens. It would be recalled that, in 2013, Nigeria was ranked 153rd in the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) and despite the reported growth in the Nigerian economy, the country did not make the list of 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that recorded more than two per cent HDI gains since 2000. The report listed Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda and Tanzania as among the Africa countries that made the greatest strides in HDI improvement since 2000. Also, the 2011 index of African Governance scored Nigeria 49 per cent in the area of education. This is less than the continental average put at 51 per cent. Also, the Daily Trust of Thursday, January 27, 2011 reported Nigeria’s high poverty level as gathered by Government and Non-Governmental Organizations in Nigeria. The reported quoted over 12 million youths as poor because they have no means of livelihood, which is a dangerous development.

President Muhammadu Buhari has identified corruption as the main reason for the prevalence of poverty in the midst of plenty in Nigeria saying majority of Nigerians live in extreme poverty. He said, “Corruption in our country is so endemic that it constitutes a parallel system. It is the primary reason for poor policy choices, waste and of course, barefaced theft of public resources. Our fight against corruption is not a moral battle for virtue and righteousness in our land; it is a fight for the soul and substance of our nation. The president also hinged infant mortality deaths on the avarice of some leaders. His words, “The hundreds of thousands of deaths in the infant and maternal mortality statistics, the hundreds of thousands of deaths from preventable diseases are traceable to the greed and corruption of a few. This is why we must see it as an existential threat. If we don’t kill it, it will kill us”.

But successive governments have not been able to do any of this, and since 1999 to 2015, Nigeria never had it so good, in terms of revenue from oil as result of upsurge in prices at the international market, particularly between 2007 and 2014. So, how can Nigeria that used to be the sixth largest oil producing country in the world be one of the poorest countries in the world? It means therefore that successive governments before Buhari had failed irredeemably in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities to the state and the people.

It is gratifying to note that, the present government is trying hard to eradicate poverty through massive investment in agriculture, the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, says the Federal Government is targeting the production of seven million tonnes of rice by 2018. Ogbeh told newsmen recently that the target, which would be achieved by the second quarter of 2018, was to meet the national consumption rate. He said, “I think we have attained the level of being one of the largest producers of rice, even though many people are still in doubt about that. “So, for those who say it is not true, I think they need to take another look. “I have been in Vietnam, the same kind of rice plantation you see there is what you see in Nigeria. “The only thing we need to add is the milling capacity, which we are increasing.” The minister, however, attributed the current hike in the price of rice to the increase in the people’s demand for the produce. Ogbeh said that the country was feeding more than 193 million citizens as well as 100 million others in West and North Africa. He said, “Nobody argues the fact that trucks come in from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic, Chad, Mali, to Funtua in Katsina to load our grains.”

On rice milling, the ex- minister said that the Federal Government recently advertised no fewer than 100 rice mills for sale and distribution to farmers. Ogbeh said that this would assist rice farmers to boost their production while reducing the price of the produce and boosting the food security of the country. “Our milling capacity is still not up to speed but we want to improve. “Some of the mills, which will mainly go to cooperatives, will do 10 tonnes a day, some 20 tonnes, some 50 tonnes and some 100 tonnes. “The terms of sale and distribution of the mills to communities and farmers will be very generous,’’ he said. Ogbeh said that the states that were currently producing rice included Adamawa, Kebbi, Kano, Ebonyi, Kastina, Jigawa, Taraba, Anambra, Enugu and Benue.

It would also be recalled that, President Muhammadu Buhari has launched the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) initiated Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP), even as he expressed high hopes that the scheme would lift thousands of small farmers out of poverty and generate millions of jobs for unemployed Nigerians. Speaking during the launch of the ABP and flag-off of the 2015 dry season farming season in Birnin-Kebbi, Kebbi State on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, President Buhari frowned at the huge sums spent by Nigeria on the importation of food items that could be produced locally, stressing that the N1 trillion importation bill was not sustainable.

It is for this reason that the present administration has worked out modalities through the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Bank of Industry to adequately fund the Small and Medium Scale Industry as a way of reducing poverty, creating wealth, generating gainful employment and growing the GDP in a depressed economy. The government has also targeted agriculture and solid mineral development as avenues for the diversification of the economy away from oil to create vast employment opportunities across the length and breadth of the country as well as draw people out of the poverty cesspit.

Similarly, the Social Investment Programme of the President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR Administration was set up to improve the living conditions of millions of Nigerians across the country. It has become important that every now and then, we update Nigerians on how far we have come in the last few years, including our success stories and our achievements. In the last fews years we have heard thousands of testimonials of people’s lives being changed for the better, as a sign of success and deep penetration into our communities. We continue to see evident improvement in the lives of our beneficiaries.

It is not in doubt that the Social Investment Programme of this Administration is the largest, most ambitious, and I dare say the most successful attempt by any Government, to invest in our people, in Nigeria’s history. Since inception, we have provided 500 Billion Naira for the programmes in the 2016, 2017 & 2018 Budgets, with close to N250 Billion, being 23.63% of the entire 3 years budget appropriated for N-SIPS having been released. For the 2018 budget so far, however, we have received 18% of the amount appropriated for all our progammes. Our programmes have four components: The Home Grown School Feeding Programme, the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (which comprises the MarketMoni, the FarmerMoni and the TraderMoni), and the last, but not the least, the N-Power programme, (which also comprises the Technical Hubs springing up around the country, as well as the N-Power Stem Junior, about to commence).

However, the Nigerian economy continues to grapple with a number of snags that have hampered and hindered genuine economic transformation. Firstly, the economy is yet to achieve the necessary structural changes required to jump-start rapid and sustainable growth and development. Besides, disarticulated and narrow productive base, sectorial linkages in the economy are weak, primary production comprising agriculture, solid mineral as well as oil and gas dominate national output, while the manufacturing role in the economy is decidedly small in terms of share of gross output, contribution to growth, foreign exchange earnings, just revenue and employment generation. The economy also confronts monumental challenges in form of dilapidated infrastructural base in the country, which is a reflection of years of neglect, poor maintenance and weak technological base. Also, there is no formidable nexus between research findings and industrial growth. The private sector is equally feeble coupled with poor industrial incentives. This is the vivid picture of what President Muhammadu Buhari met on ground when he took over the leadership of the country and is presently addressing step by step.

Moreover, President Muhammadu Buhari Abuja formally launched the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan for a period of three years, covering 2017 to 2020. The launch took place at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The plan, which is the brainchild of the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, contains 60 critical initiatives expected to help get Nigeria out of recession and reposition it on the path of sustained growth.

It is therefore very glaring that the present government is working assiduously to radically diversify the economy of the country, as well as reduce poverty to the barest minimum principally through the instrumentality of agriculture, if Nigeria can be self-sufficient in food production; other things will fall into place, more so that, there are concerted efforts to comprehensively address the humongous infrastructural deficits in the country. 

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